Made in Wisconsin: Behind the scenes of Kwik Trip's headquarters in La Crosse

Posted at 9:12 AM, Jan 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-24 09:40:32-05

It is rare for a convenience store chain to have millions of followers on social media, but maybe not if that chain is La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Kwik Trip.

The store has a large and cult-like following that grows each time they open a new store. We were granted a rare look behind the scenes at the company’s headquarters, where decisions are not only made, but also a lot of the food that is sold at the more than 860 stores across the Midwest.

The 140-acre campus is comprised of several buildings, with more than 3,000 employees. Kwik Trip first entered the La Crosse area in 1971, after opening their first store in Eau Claire 6 years earlier.

In 1973 the corporate headquarters was established, and it has continued to grow ever since.

“Kwik Trip is part of Wisconsin and I think that part of that is Wisconsin is proud of Kwik Trip" says John McHugh, the company’s Vice President of External Communications.

The company is still owned by one of the original partners that started it back in the 60s. Don Zietlow has since stepped down as CEO, but the company is still run by his son Scott. Training Manager, and 3rd generation owner by marriage, Carl Rick, says Don instilled what Kwik Trip is all about early on in his time with the company.

“The thing I heard from Don more often than anything else is 'Carl, it's such a simple business model. If we take care of our coworkers, then our coworkers will take care of our guests and we'll be successful well into the future.'”

The model has worked well for the company, which plans to open even more stores in 2024.

Employees at Kwik Trip are known as “coworkers” and all 38,000 of them across the company share in the profits. Last year more than $208 million was dispersed in profit sharing.

“We're just a beloved company, we do the right thing for our guests and everybody knows that,” says McHugh.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Kwik Trip headquarters is the amount of product that is being made around the clock to supply stores.

One of the most popular is the “Glazers” donuts. Glazers first hit stores in 2003 after more than a year of research and development.

What's behind the original Kwik Trip Glazers

“We had a challenge from the management to see if we could make a Krispy Kreme-ish donut” says Dan Walters, the Research and Development Manager of the KT bakery.

Kwik Trip glazers
Kwik Trip glazers

The team playing with recipes took advantage of open fryers during the overnight shift to perfect the donut. Today, the company makes about 45 million glazers a year in the sweets bakery. That’s nearly 400 a minute being pumped out.

Not too far away in the bakery, 1,600 buns and 225 loaves of bread are made a minute, packaged and shipped to the stores.

Kwik Trip bakery goods
Kwik Trip bakery goods

You’ll need something to wash down those glazers. Not to worry - Kwik Trip also bottles its own milk - 65 million jugs and bottles in 2023.

Kwik Trip milk
Kwik Trip milk

Just steps away, up to 8,000 gallons a day of Nature’s Touch Ice Cream is made. Their most popular flavor is Vanilla.

The campus also has some places you might not expect for a convenience store. There is a test kitchen where many of the recipes for food are created and scaled for large production. KT also employs a full time Food Protection Lab where they test for anything that may contaminate food.

Kwik Trip dough
Kwik Trip dough

Kwik Trip says they plan to continue to expand in the coming years. They currently operate stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan under Kwik Trip and Kwik-Star brands among others.